God's President: Mugabe of Zimbabwe by Kwame Kwei-Armah

Contact Us

BBC Radio 4, 10 December 2010
The play tells the story of the tense negotiations that led towards the signing of the Lancaster House agreement in 1979, which paved the way for Zimbabwe's independence. It shows the complexity of the process: there was no one party representing the Rhodesian/ Zimbabwean white and black populations, but rather a series of competing groups, each with their own particular aims and objectives. The whites were led by former President Ian Smith (William Gaminara), who was determined not to cede anything to the blacks if he could help it, while simultaneously understanding that white minority rule could no longer prevail. The focus of black interests centred on Joshua Nkomo (Jude Akuwudike) and Robert Mugabe (Lucian Msamati), who led their own particular groups. Mugabe was portrayed as a shrewd political operator with a sense of the justness of his cause; having seen his own people slaughtered in cold blood by the whites - with tacit support from the British - he was in no mood to make concessions.
While not actively sympathizing with Mugabe, the play suggests that his stance was perfectly justified; he did not trust the British, the whites, or the other black groups. Maybe his suspicions were justified: the British negotiating team led by Lord Carrington (Richard Cordery) were perpetually trying to forge deals with Nkomo and Bishop Muzorewa (Chuk Iwuji) away from the negotiating-table (sometimes even in the washrooms). Even though Carrington repeatedly protests his innocence, it seems as if his position concerning Rhodesia/ Zimbabwe's independence is dominated by the colonialist mentality. The country can have self-government, so long as a British statesperson is there to oversee the transformation.
God's President tells a chronological tale, punctuated with flashbacks to earlier periods in Mugabe's career (for example, his imprisonment by the British) that help us to understand his position better. While Kwame Kwei-Armah does not exactly call for a redefinition of Mugabe's public image, he does invite us to understand the Zimbabwean leader's motives, and why he acted as he did in the late 1970s. From a present-day perspective, the play also explains why Mugabe has become more and more entrenched in his attitudes, and why he expelled white Zimbabweans once he ascended to the presidency of his country. They were always a threat to his position, even though they protested their loyalty to his cause. The director of this Friday Play was Jeremy Mortimer.